[image: Xeni Jardin, 2007, cc]
The government of Guatemala recently enacted a series of new laws intended to curb corruption within the country's $100 million adoption industry. Guatemala is one of the world's top "sender" countries for children adopted by US families, second only to China. Babies are big business there.
This Central American nation is among the world's poorest, and its legal system is among the world's most corrupt. Add all of that up, factor in the social disruption that results from decades of civil war, and you end up with a climate where babies are sometimes sold like animals and the rights of birth mothers are routinely abused.
The Guatemalan government seems eager to make a punitive example out of one high-profile adoption agency in particular -- Casa Quivira. The country's biggest baby-bust yet broke this week, and involves two attorneys who represented that agency, which was once considered the most "legit" in the country.
The attorneys have been charged with fraud and human trafficking:
The probe of Casa Quivira – where 46 children in the process of being adopted by U.S. families were seized in a government raid last August – turned up a slew of irregularities, including at least five cases in which birth mothers were allegedly given false identities to avoid having to seek permission from family members and a judge to give up their babies.
Eighteen other mothers could not be found under the identities that case files provided, prosecutors said.
I've spent a fair amount of time in Guatemala, since I was a teenager. I am familiar with first-person testimonies from a number of sides of this story: indigenous women who claim to have been robbed of their kids (or otherwise abused in the adoption process); attorneys and human rights workers who represent them; American families who began with the best of intentions but realized halfway through how corrupt the adoption system there really is.
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IMAGE: I snapped this photo during a stealth visit to another adoption facility in Guatemala that has been described as a "baby-laundering" operation, run by an offshoot cell of a US-based evangelical megachurch. During this visit, they proudly told me they "cured" AIDS and HIV in some of these children through prayer to Jesus.
The people who operate this agency obtain children from mostly indigenous, mostly displaced, all poor birth mothers; the agency is believed to routinely falsify or alter documentation, or change the names of children or parents, and arrange adoption transactions with US families as a source of income.
The children and teens there are locked in rooms when unsupervised, not allowed contact with family members who sometimes show up to reclaim them, and barbed wire fence rings the property perimeter. It felt like a prison.
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(thanks, Martha Clayton and Jolon Bankey).